Brooch, 'Greygreen', silver / plastic / glass / hematites / diamonds, designed and made by Helen Britton, Munich, Germany, 2008
Britton's jewellery has always imaginatively combined precious materials and stones like silver and pearls, with non-precious materials like plastic or glass, thus continuing the practice since the 1970s of using 'alternative materials' to question the meaning of 'value' in relation to jewellery. She first explored her interest in genetic engineering in the mid 1990s manipulating botanical forms as part of the history of the construction of the concept of nature. These 'hybrid and graft' works were shown in such exhibitions as that held at Crawford Gallery in Sydney in 1997, from which five small brooches and rings were acquired by this museum.
Helen Britton (b 1966) was born in Australia, educated in Australia (Curtin University) and Germany (Academy of Fine Art, Munich) and had her studio jewellery practice in Perth before moving to Munich in 2002. The past decade spent working in Germany has been important in that it has provided a striking body of new work and brought international recognition. The flora and fauna 'mutants' from her Australian series have continued to evolve 'on their own slightly frightening evolutionary tangent, part plant, part machine, part animal-cyborgs keen to graft themselves into a passing body', (HB, 1997). But Britton's ' little machines and landscapes for wearing' made in Germany look less organic and more machine-like, they have grown in scale, complexity and become somewhat more robotic. Equally explorative and direct, they reflect living in a large European city where 'there are lots of building sites. This brings me great pleasure, watching the excavations, deliveries of materials and construction processes on my routine travels through the city. This pleasure in structures, in the collection and selection of materials - that is bound by both my interest in beauty and requirements of use - forms the basis of my practice.' However these brooches are also more 'romantic' and part of the artist's 'very private world': 'I create in my work collisions of design, baroque, reduction-resistant assemblages¬? I am happy to think that these little things then find their way back out into the world and into people's daily lives...' (HB 2008).
The 'Greygreen' brooch has been acquired by the Museum as a pair to that entitled 'Diamond machine' and made in 2007. Both brooches belong to a series of small, compact, deconstructionist brooches that reference both industrial landscapes with some seemingly natural elements. These works use traditional jewellery techniques and materials, such as diamonds, but turn them on their sides and embed them deep within the complex structures that are typical of these works. The brooches are very characteristic of the period using Australian diamonds in combination with glass and plastic elements.
However, while 'Diamond machine' relies for its visual impact on the uneasy if not 'aggressive' relationship between hard-edged, industrial-looking and 'natural' elements, the larger 'Greygreen' represents the next stage in the development of the series: it opens up both in scale and form, displaying classic plastic elements recycled from modest fashion jewellery production in combination with large coloured diamonds. The baroque floating planes of this piece use the same deconstructionist language developed in the 'Diamond machine' but on a larger scale. The intention is to present rather than to integrate. 'Greygreen' pioneered the forms that led to later works such as the 'Decorationswut' series of 2009.*
* Correspondence with the artist, 2010.
Designed and made by Helen Britton in Munich, Germany in 2008.
This brooch was displayed in the Makers Metier exhibition of international jewellery at the Gallery East in North Freemantle, 9 April-2 May 2010. This show also displayed the work of Cynthia Cousens, Karl Fritsch, Elizabeth Turrell and Lisa Walker.